September 30, 2020: This Week We're Wild About... Traci Chee

Traci Chee is a wildly intelligent author who is a friend and favorite here at the Mill Valley Public Library. Last year she visited our middle school book club (revealing hidden puzzles in her novel to members) and recorded an episode of our Eight Books That Made Me podcast (revisiting her childhood favorites). Her latest book, a YA novel about Japanese Internment, has been longlisted for the National Book Award for Young People's Literature. Check out her Youtube series where she talks about her research-including hunting down a picture of her grandfather the day he was evicted from his home in Japantown, San Francisco, when he was sixteen.

- Natalie McCall (Head of Youth Services)

Traci CheeWhat's the title of your upcoming book?

We Are Not Free was just released on September 1!

What book should readers go to for an escape from reality?

I'm obsessed with the sci-fi worlds of Parker Peevyhouse (The Echo Room, Strange Exit). These books are otherworldly and enigmatic, with tightly-coiled plots packed full of surprises-they're the kind of books that lure you in and quickly become page-turners as you try to figure out exactly what's going on and how all the pieces fit together. Highly recommended for the puzzle lovers and curious minds!

What book should readers go to when they want to face reality?

I just finished We Are Not from Here by Jenny Torres Sanchez, about three teens running from Guatemala to the U.S., and reading it feels like walking along the edge of a knife-precarious, perilous, brutal. I love it because it feels like the kind of book that has the potential to open up your reality, revealing new perspectives that can broaden and deepen your world.

What was your reading life like before the pandemic?

Sporadic. Sometimes I'd read a book a day. Other times, particularly when I was on deadline, I wouldn't read anything but a short story or a few poems before bedtime.

What has your reading life been like since the pandemic?

Sporadic! There's so much going on, so much to worry about, so much to do and adapt to, that it's been pretty hard to focus. I've been trying to go easy on myself by reading only what feels right at the time, freely abandoning books mid-read if they're no longer right for me, and not being too hard on myself on the days where binging my comfort-watches on TV is about as much as I can handle.

Why should people read for pleasure? Is that any different now?

I think there are a lot of benefits to reading. It can expose you to new ideas and new perspectives. It can cast familiar things in a new light. It can be a great distraction or even an escape from reality! Currently, my reading ebbs and flows between books about activism and social justice to sci-fi to cozy mysteries, and I just try to pay attention to what's best for me at what time.

What do you hope your book gives to readers?

We Are Not Free Book CoverSo… I have to confess here that history was never my favorite subject in school. Don't get me wrong! I still did all the assignments and still got A's on my report cards, but I just couldn't understand why memorizing these old names and dates and facts should matter to me. But as I researched and wrote We Are Not Free, I came to realize that history isn't just a bunch of old names and dates and facts. It isn't stale, and it isn't dead. The incarceration happened to real people-people I know, young people like my grandparents were, young people like you could know right now, today-and I hope this book reminds people that history isn't just history. It's deep and rich and all around us. We are still living this history, and that means we still have the chance to change it for the better.

Should book lovers worry about the future of publishing during the pandemic? If so, how can they help?

Oh gosh, here are so many things to worry about in 2020-I don't necessarily want to add more! What I will say is that this year has made me think a lot about what's valuable to me. Fresh air. Human connection. Social justice. And yes, books! It's those things that I've been pouring my time and energy into: going on walks, spending socially-distanced time with family and friends, finding ways to support organizations like Black Lives Matter or Tsuru for Solidarity. If, like me, you're finding books are important to you right now, you can borrow them from your local library, buy them from an independent bookstore or from, attend virtual events, join or start a book club, and generally push your favorite books into the hands of your family and friends!

If you could imagine your dream virtual library, what would it be like?

I love a physical book, so if I had a dream virtual library, it would all be channeled into a single, technologically advanced physical book that could essentially download and become any book in my digital library, complete with pages that I could turn and mark up as needed!

Where can readers find you online?

I'm at as well as on Twitter (@tracichee), Instagram (@tracicheeauthor), and Facebook (@TraciCheeAuthor).